I have been told by numerous people over the years that I look exactly like my mother. Your eyes, they say, have that same glint of amusement. It’s something about her mouth, others say, how it always has a secret hidden behind its smile. To me, these were always compliments that held no ground. Just conversational, empty comments that people fished around for when meeting me for the first time.
I could never associate my clumsiness to my mum’s lyrical grace. My lacklustre hair couldn't possibly hold a candle to her rich, luscious locks that never seemed to age. Her soft curves and supple back peeking out from beneath her embroidered saree showcased transcendent beauty. I looked nothing like her.
Even though I knew that these words were vain attempts to connect our shared genes, I still treasured them in the form of crumpled paper pellets at the back of my mind. Every time a relative or a well-meaning friend would tell us of our physical similarities, I would smile shyly, adding another piece to my pile of these false compliments.
It was only after a certain age, perhaps past my preteen years, that I began to notice my mum’s sad, silent smile contrasting lightly against my sheepish one. It wasn't until another few years later that I attempted to unearth the meaning behind it.
She just looked into my eyes before she kissed me on the cheek. That was the moment it dawned on me. For the first time, I noticed creases underneath her eye that were always invisible to me before. Her cheeks took an effort to match her smile.
I went and looked into the mirror. I pulled at my eyelids and scrunched up my nose. I analysed each feature, putting it under the microscopic lenses of my judgement, to find similarities to my mother. There were none.
I hid this disappointment behind my stolen collection of false compliments, but didn't contemplate on the matter further. My mother continued being her composed, flawless self, while I, the shadow gratefully hidden from view. I liked that instead of forming a judgement of my beauty, people noticed my mother in me. I felt that it saved me from the scrutiny that I might have otherwise been subjected to. To be my mother’s daughter, however? Well, of course, she looks just like her.
Yesterday, someone made a nonchalant comment on garden vegetables. It was thrown in in the middle of the conversation, perfectly obscured amongst the other syllables surrounding it. There was absolutely no intention of a joke in it.
Still, a smile escaped my lips. My eyes fell shut in an attempt to contain my laughter. When I opened them, my mother was looking at me from the corner of her eyes, half-covering her mouth that gave away her obvious giggle. As I looked at her, my grin widening before we both burst out laughing, it suddenly made sense.
Nandini Goel is a writer whose work often focuses on metaphors, abstraction, and vague endings. She shares an explosive relationship with coffee, spends her time making mixtapes, and always has a book in her hands. You can follow her on Instagram at @thebrokencassette.